- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

The international treaty set, which loves negotiating airy if largely empty agreements in posh watering spots like Geneva, is mighty upset with President George W Bush. It seems he is guilty of placing American interests ahead of their own intellectual mastications.
This makes Mr. Bush guilty, in much of the media's eyes, of the old American sin of isolationism — or at least go-it-alone unilateralism. And everybody knows that a go-it-alone America is a dangerous beast. All that power, so little intelligence, sophistication or nuance.
Writing in the prestigious weekly Die Zeit, editor Theo Sommer, one of Germany's best-known pundits, pompously compares Mr. Bush to Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet foreign minister whose dour demeanor earned him the sobriquet "Dr. Nyet."
"The president says 'no,' not grimly, but with a smile," Mr. Sommer is quoted in the New York Times. "Yet he does not concede, he does not give up, he does not surrender. He offers everyone consultations. Yet the conversations are aimed at conversion, not compromise."
Good thing, I say. The last president who wouldn't give up was Ronald Reagan, and he converted a quaking West to the idea of winning the Cold War. Besides, the fact that Mr. Bush rejects some of the sacred cows of the international left — an accord on global warming, a Cold War-era ban on missile defenses, a land-mine ban that is far more popular among Hollywood types than battle-tested generals — hardly makes him a unilateralist, much less an isolationist.
Even Bill Clinton was skeptical about the land-mine treaty. Moreover, on some issues — trade, for example — the Bush administration is intensely internationalist. Mr. Bush has spoken of a "moral" commitment to free trade, and he is battling the self-interested efforts of the Teamsters union to subject Mexican trucks moving goods across the border to far tougher safety standards than U.S. or Canadian trucks.
The Kyoto Protocol is now derided even by self-proclaimed moderates as an unworkable triumph of form over substance. As for amending or scrapping the ABM Treaty, such an eventuality is expressly provided for in the language of the treaty itself, which only requires six months notice of withdrawal.
The most absurd idea of all is turning sovereign legal powers over to the United Nations or an international criminal court of some sort. From time to time, a temporary tribunal might be useful in giving legal cover to Western military and diplomatic goals, as in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. But even that is morally problematic, since the whole meaning of law is predictability, not the arbitrary invocation of power even for what are assumed to be the best of purposes. Moreover, many of the member countries of the United Nations are run by criminals, or at least dictators and oligarchies who wouldn't know due process if they fell across it.
What really appears to bug the critics is Mr. Bush's insistence, repeatedly expressed in his election campaign, that American foreign policy should reflect American national interest. This violates a central ideological premise of the left: that national interest is little more than a cover for the illegitimate use of power — Adolf Hitler being the worst-case example — and thus a threat to international peace and prosperity.
In this view, enlightened statesmen will always seek restraint on nationalism through treaties that place the global good ahead of the parochial interest. But in a world of many different sovereignties, the oppressed always have the possibility of escaping to a more benign environment. In a world where only one government is sovereign, there is no avenue for escape. Until somebody finds a way to repeal Lord Acton's famous dictum — that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely — there would be plenty of need for escape in such a regime.
Oppressed peoples everywhere should be thankful that George W. Bush shows an instinctive understanding of this trap. An America that keeps its own national interests firmly in mind is far more likely to prove their friend than an America that abdicates its responsibilities to others in the name of abstractions like international good will.

Tom Bray is a columnist with the Detroit News.

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